Sunshine over Shanghai: Can the WTO Illuminate the Murky World of Chinese SOEs?

24 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2017

See all articles by Robert Wolfe

Robert Wolfe

Queen's University - School of Policy Studies

Date Written: March 2017


State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are a major force in the Chinese economy and a growing presence in international trade and investment. The challenge to the WTO legal regime is commercial, given their size and their share of Chinese output, and political, given worries that trade and investment by SOEs may be driven by public policy goals. And both challenges may be exacerbated by the murky world of Chinese SOEs. In this article I first review whether Chinese SOEs are a problem for the WTO, and whether more sunshine on their operations might be a useful discipline. I then ask what we know about SOEs inside the WTO, including in the Trade Policy Review Mechanism. Since the answer is, not much, I consider whether mega-regional trade negotiations offer a better approach. My answer being negative, I finally consider whether an attempt to negotiate a WTO Reference Paper on SOEs might help. I conclude that transparency is likely to be a better discipline on the spillovers associated with SOEs than a search for binding rules, while also helping everyone better understand the efficiency effects.

Keywords: Subsidies, State-Owned Enterprises, Transparency, Informal Law

Suggested Citation

Wolfe, Robert, Sunshine over Shanghai: Can the WTO Illuminate the Murky World of Chinese SOEs? (March 2017). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSCAS 2017/12, Available at SSRN: or

Robert Wolfe (Contact Author)

Queen's University - School of Policy Studies ( email )

Ontario K7L 3N6

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics